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Ali Clarke: Community service should be compulsory


With so many organisations struggling to find volunteers, Ali Clarke wonders if we have any political leaders with the courage and boldness to enforce positive change.

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With uncosted election promises more common than a Kardashian selfie these days, I think I’m going to get into the swing of Morrison, Albanese and those others, and float something that could make a difference but declare I have absolutely no idea how expensive it would be to implement.

As for being a vote winner?  Well, you be the judge.

It’s pretty simple in theory which makes me wonder why we’re not already doing it, but as the famous saying goes: “Leadership comes in small acts, as well as bold strokes.”

The latest offerings from our leadership aspirants show they’re definitely stroking. But not in a good way.

Like any change, the detractors will come, but can anyone tell me why don’t we make it compulsory to complete a certain number of hours of community service before school students graduate?

Now I realise this is not a new idea, but considering there’s a distinct lack of innovation and responsiveness to the little people, I figured if I return to an old idea to see if this is the year it will get traction.

In fact, back in 2006, the youth wing of the Australian Labor Party went to both their state and national colleagues in an attempt to get them to adopt a similar scheme.

None other than Sam Dastyari, who was the NSW Young Labor president of the time, espoused the benefits of civic responsibility and skill acquisition.

When the party didn’t bite, the idea seemed to sink beneath the populist waters and considering they were heading into the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years, it’s clear they perhaps had bigger fish to fry.

Having said that though, the stats for volunteering show there is a large group of people (or voters given we’re in an election year) that are potentially attracted by forward-thinking, community-minded government.

Prior to the gift-that-keeps-on-giving, otherwise known as COVID-19, it was estimated that nearly one million people volunteered in South Australia each year. A study from Dr Lisel O’Dwyer from Flinders University estimates that volunteering was worth around $5billion annually to our economy.

Even on those rudimentary figures, it stands to fiscal reason that a government should look after this relatively free workforce.

Unfortunately, the pandemic knocked around our health confidence, thus denting those numbers, and now many groups are facing challenges as they struggle to get the people needed to continue their critical work in our communities.

In the early parts of 2020, the Australian National University recorded that nearly two-thirds of volunteers had to, or chose to, stop their selfless work. The community need is again on the rise as organisations return to their work in health, wellness, sport, the arts, education, service and disability communities, they are back seeking warm bodies who want to volunteer again.

Clearly making this compulsory is taking away the volunteering part – and I don’t do that lightly as many people choose to volunteer for deeply personal reasons.

For so many people, the most precious thing they have is time, and for someone to give that willingly to another in service that is motivated by selflessness runs counter to the idea of a mandate.

So sure, the idea of this being something we have to do negates that area of motivation and in turn, would probably diminish the reward some would feel by being there.

And yes, I bet there would still be some arseholes (I really couldn’t think of any other word) that would make it difficult for the poor person guiding their work, just because they’re, well, arseholes.

But for others, wouldn’t the reward felt, the warm glow if you will, be something that might encourage them to keep on giving, long after their obligatory term is over?

Surely, just by introducing more and more people to working for a greater good and breaking down the barriers that stop them from even starting, we would be doing a wider service to those who had service within them, but just didn’t know where or how to start.

I’ve seen this recently, with my daughter starting a reading program with other children through her school and The Smith Family.

It’s a ripper idea, where she is paired up with a younger child and they converse over an educational app as she helps them learn and practise their reading.

To see the value she gains from helping someone else, has been one of the absolute joys of my life and I know in my gut it will encourage her to have a longer-term devotion to others.

I also had the pleasure of meeting a heap of volunteers earlier this week as we started the celebrations of National Volunteer Week.

Whilst it was a diverse bunch and I’m certainly not trying to define what a ‘typical’ volunteer is, listening to their enthusiastic stories crystalised how much better our communities would be if more of us could find our way to joining in and giving to others.

At this time of history when there is a direct need created by a once in a century pandemic, why not get the younger generation engaged in any way possible?

Yes, it would be the hard sell – the kind of thing so many leaders seem to shirk from as they chase the easy votes. And yes it would involve a lot of hard work, but if there’s something that binds together the volunteers I’ve met this week, it’s certainly not a fear of that.

And hey leaders, if this is a bridge too far, how about you just put some thought into greater support for those incredible people that pick up the pieces that your systems miss.

Ali Clarke is an Ambassador for Volunteering SA and NT and so declares her unashamed bias … She hasn’t run her idea of compulsory community service by them so this could be awkward.

Ali Clarke presents the breakfast show on Mix 102.3. She is a regular columnist for InDaily.

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